SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

April 20, 2013

Lawyer is suspended for a year over misuse of client funds

SALEM — A Salem attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant disputes has been suspended from practicing law for a year after admitting to improperly using client funds to pay other bills and fudging financial records he submitted to state regulators investigating the complaint.

Thomas F. Feeney, who ran a firm called Feeney and Associates at Law out of offices at 254 Essex St., received the suspension last month after stipulating to several violations of the rules governing attorneys practicing in Massachusetts.

According to a summary of the violations provided by the state Board of Bar Overseers, Feeney accepted a $1,500 retainer from a client, then used that money to pay other expenses unrelated to the client’s case.

He later refunded part of that retainer with money he had accepted from another client.

In 2009, Feeney represented three tenants in a dispute with a landlord. The tenants were subsequently ordered to pay the landlord $6,528.

The tenants gave Feeney part of the money, just over $2,000, in July 2009. Instead of forwarding the payment to the landlord or his attorney, Feeney used the money for his own expenses, the BBO concluded.

A second partial payment of $3,000 turned over to Feeney was also misused by the lawyer, who used part of that payment to refund the earlier client.

A few days after the tenants gave Feeney the rest of the money they owed the landlord, Feeney deposited $25,000 into his client funds account from another source and used that money to pay the landlord.

In the midst of those payments from the tenants, Feeney’s client funds account was at one point overdrawn, another violation of the rules.

The following November, when investigators contacted Feeney looking for his client funds account records, he included five bank deposit slips that, the investigators found, had been altered.

The investigators, from the Office of Bar Counsel, asked him to come in for questioning under oath. He subsequently sent them unaltered bank records.

The violations include Feeney’s failure to maintain proper records of his client funds account, his withdrawals of unaccounted-for cash from that account, and his use of the account to pay personal bills, as well as his altering records.

Feeney also at one time had a practice in Chestnut Hill.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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